From the Booking Desk:
When I post my Top Reads list each year, I never actually rank the books and I rarely used to mention what my very favorite book is for any given year. This is largely because it is never as cut and dried as it might seem. There are so many factors that play into how and why a book resonates with me.
However in 2019, I decided to go on record with my “favorite” book of each year, but it is important to remember that these choices were never easy and some books I truly love and cherish with all my heart are not listed simply because of the stiff competition the year they were released. (I am limited to choosing only *one* each year.)
My yearly Top Reads list should still be the go-to source for an overall view of quality crime fiction being released, but if I were to give a stranger one crime novel from each year, these are the ones I would gift. Note how the reasons are so personal; this is why one must remember lists like this are always subjective.
BURY YOUR DEAD by LOUISE PENNY: For me, this is the moment that the Three Pines series shifted, with the novels becoming ever more connected – almost one long story broken up into individual chapters. After years of getting to know these characters, Penny breaks our hearts and forces us to watch the ramifications. This is also the moment when the history of Canada became a key component to the series, weaving together the activities in Three Pines with those outside in the larger nation.
THE END OF EVERYTHING by MEGAN ABBOTT: This is the book where Abbott transitioned from writing her excellent retro-noir novels to turn her focus to adolescence – specifically that of girls. No other writer in *any* genre can better capture the mindset of tween and teen girls, revealing all the complex emotions that exist during this pivotal period, while weaving some of the darkest and most compelling stories possible.
DEFENDING JACOB by WILLIAM LANDAY: Talk about a book that leaves a lasting impression, this novel is simply unforgettable. A domestic suspense novel merged with a courtroom drama, Landay never goes for easy answers and the reader is put through the proverbial wringer.
THE WICKED GIRLS by ALEX MARWOOD: Bursting onto the crime fiction scene, this is a book that resonates long after the final pages are turned. Countless crime novels have been inspired by the James Bulger murder, each bringing something new to the discussion. In Marwood’s case, she is interested in presenting a meditation on the long-lasting effects of bad decisions within a society that thrives by placing blame and casting shame.
IN THE BLOOD by LISA UNGER: Unger’s loosely-connected novels set in the fiction town of The Hollows are always highlights for me, but this third one will always be my favorite. With an ingenious twist that feels less like a gimmick and more like an authentic part of Unger’s ultimate goal, it is impossible to express in words the special place in my heart where this novel will forever reside.
THE KILLING KIND by CHRIS HOLM: One might notice that this book is very different from all the others on this list. It’s not a psychological suspense or a traditional mystery, it is a tried-and-true thriller of the first order. But what makes it stand out for me is the care and compassion Holm displays for his characters – something rarely seen in that testosterone-heavy sub-genre – and the mastering of pace and tone that is on display throughout.
WILDE LAKE by LAURA LIPPMAN: The novel marks a subtle shift in Lippman’s impressive oeuvre: her previous stand-alones were often inspired by true crimes from the past, but this book (and the next few) instead pay homage to classic novels. In this case, having To Kill A Mockingbird as an inspiration virtually sealed its place on this list, but it also happens to be set in Columbia, Maryland, a location near and dear to my heart. Lippman’s characters are always people you want to know.
BLUEBIRD, BLUEBIRD by ATTICA LOCKE: Having been an Attica Locke fan since her debut, Black Water Rising, I was still unprepared for the impact of this novel. A Locke work always feels authentic and important, but this novel that is so reflective of who Attica Locke is, was, and will be proves that crime fiction is at its best when it allows for diverse representation from voices at the margins. The fact that Locke won the Best Novel Edgar Award at the same ceremony where I received my Mystery Writers of America Raven Award just makes it (and her) that much more special to me.
JAR OF HEARTS by JENNIFER HILLIER: I have long felt that Jennifer Hillier didn’t get the recognition she deserves, so I will thrilled when this novel proved to be such a breakout hit for her. This book is the very definition of impossible to classify: it is part serial killer novel, part romance, part suspense, and part tragedy. All those parts together make it one of the most unique and unforgettable novels on this list.
YOUR HOUSE WILL PAY by STEPH CHA: It would be impossible to say something about this masterpiece that hasn’t already been said a thousand times. Did you see how many Best Of Lists for 2019 this book was featured on? This is such an important novel and history is sure to honor it for the revolutionary work contained within. Crime fiction has always been the social novel of the day, the works that truly reflect the society in which they were created, but they are also the works that most inspire change. Because of Steph Cha, we all know we can do better, we can be better!
And Now She’s Gone by Rachel Howzell Hall: Hall is an author who has proven that she can write anything, any style, and do it better than many of her contemporaries. Anyone interested in the evolution of crime fiction must read And Now She’s Gone, as this is a novel that brings diversity to the genre without the need to centralize the Black experience as the focal point of the book, while at the same time this book never shies away from its roots. And Now She’s Gone blends the procedurals aspects of her Lou Norton series with the psychological bent of They All Fall Down, resulting in a novel that will be nearly impossible to forget.
Razorblade Tears by S. A. Cosby: Shawn (S. A.) Cosby is that rare author whose innate talent shines through with every word he puts down. This level of genius comes along rarely and it was obvious from his first novel. Each of his fans will claim a different book as a favorite and that’s why he is so incredibly significant to the genre. Razorblade Tears resonates with me as a gay man struggling to find a world where that is completely accepted, so it will likely always be my favorite of his works. Literally any of his novels (or short stories) would find a happy home on this list for other years, so rest assured that you can never go wrong by picking up anything he has written–or will write in the future.
The Last King of California by Jordan Harper: Possibly the most obscure name on this list and that must be rectified. She Rides Shotgun was a book that came out of the blue for many readers, knocking us sideways with it’s ability to make a really dark noir storyline accessible to everyone. That teddy bear certainly helped in the matter. This book is not really a sequel but certainly exists in the same world–even containing some mentions of that earlier novel–so it continues the path forged. While it is brutal work that refused to pull any punches, the deep humanity on display once again ensures that virtually any reader will connect with its characters and become fully invested in the ultimate outcome.
Happiness Falls by Angie Kim: I really can’t praise Angie Kim’s second novel highly enough. Happiness Falls is not only one of the best novels of the year, but also one of the best novels ever. Happiness Falls is a missing persons mystery mashed up with a metaphysical manifesto, with each half of that equation presenting fundamental questions that intrigue the reader and propel the novel forward in unusual but undeniable ways. This is a novel of ideas and ideals that forever change the way we view the world. That is more than can be expected from any reading experience, but it’s exactly what Angie Kim delivers in Happiness Falls.